Lisbon in a nutshell – from azulejos to fado

The Sleeping Beauty on the Tagus, Lisbon is steeped in the irresistible charm of times past. Magnificent palaces and monasteries bear witness to colonial riches; picturesque alleyways and staircases, pretty corners and sleepy squares enchant visitors. That’s not all though: the melancholy capital on the southwestern edge of Europe has another side that is dynamic, modern and cosmopolitan. Discover the Portuguese capital with Marco Polo:

AZULEJOS

Azulejos (pronounced: azoolayshoosh) can bee seen everywhere in Lisbon. The colourful tiles adorn the walls of houses and benches, staircases and arches. The art of tiling is part of the city’s Moorish heritage, and the name is derived from the Arabic al zulaique (‘small polished stone’). Tiled landscapes and scenes of daily life tell a lot about Portugal’s history and culture. The Museu Nacional do Azulejo gives an excellent overview of the history of the tiled images. And a new generation of tile artists is treading new paths, choosing unusual motifs or employing the art in new ways – replicate a minimalist trend at home with a single tiny tile on its own on a big wall.

MANUELINE STYLE

Manueline style is a Portuguese variant of Flamboyant Gothic. This decorative, playful style, named after King Manuel I (1495–1521), was introduced in the early 16th century. Inspired by the exotic adventures of the seafarers and maritime explorers of the time, the architects and stonemasons covered their buildings with delicate carvings of ropes and knots, exotic plants and animals, shells and fish. For particularly beautiful examples of this architectural style, don’t miss the Hieronymus Monastery in Belém.

SAUDADE

‘Like a dagger working in the heart’ is how the Portuguese will sometimes explain the feeling of sheer boundless melancholy known as saudade – a word that cannot be translated as sorrow, fatalism, sentimentalism, nostalgia or melancholy, as it combines a little bit of all of them. The roots of this passionate feeling are considered to lie in the Islamic era, and it finds its artistic expression in the famous fado music. In conversation with Lisbon’s older generation, you’ll often find a general fatalism at work. When asked how things are going, they will often reply, ‘Eh, cá estou’ (well, here I am) or ‘Vai-se andando’ (things are going), comparable perhaps to the English expression ‘mustn’t grumble’.

PESSOA

Lisboetas have commemorated Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935), probably Portugal’s most famous poet, with a bronze monument in front of his favourite café, A Brasileira. Today, few of the countless tourists who have their picture taken alongside the statue have actually read Pessoa’s obsessive prose and poetry, tinged with nihilism. Pessoa’s name and his work are intimately connected with the city. As witty as he was eccentric, the intellectual wrote under different names – ‘heteronyms’, whose identity he would take on for a certain time – worked as a foreign languages correspondence clerk in the Baixa and moved house many times within the city. During his lifetime, Pessoa, whose name means ‘person’, published very little, but his work is currently experiencing a renaissance beyond the borders of Portugal. In the poet’s last residence, which has been converted into a small arts centre with a library, fans can follow in the footsteps of this genius of modernism (Casa Fernando Pessoa | Rua Coelho da Rocha 16 | Mon–Sat 10am– 6pm | free admission | casafernandopessoa.pt/en/, mundopessoa.blogs.sapo.pt | Eléctrico 25, 28 to Rua Saraiva Carvalho). Still worth reading: Pessoa’s poetic city guide written in 1930, Lisbon – what the Tourist Should See.

FADO

Fado is the Portuguese blues. It was born in the poor neighbourhoods of Lisbon, Alfama and Mouraria in the second half of the 18th century, and for a long time had a somewhat notorious reputation. The word is derived from the Latin fatum (fate). While both men and women (fadistas) sing the fado, it is always accompanied by two men, usually with stoic expressions, working two string instruments, a twelve-string guitar and a kind of lute, the guitarra portuguesa.

In terms of subject matter, the fado revolves around love, Lisbon, hope and disappointment – and most of all the saudade, a distinctly Portuguese feeling. What fado means to the Portuguese was evident in 1999, when Amália Rodrigues, the ‘Queen of Fado’, died. A three-day period of state mourning was declared. Amália’s house in the Rua de São Bento (Nos. 191-193) has become a site of pilgrimage for her fans (Tue– Sun 10am–1pm and 2–6pm | admission 5 euros | Metro (yellow) Rato). To this day, nobody can compare with the goddess of fado, but there are many new names on the scene, such as Camané and the internationally successful Mariza.

Many visitors to the city hear fado for the first time as a canned version, emanating from a green fadomobile in Rua do Carmo. Lisbon’s only ambulant music vendor acquired the right to sell music on the street after losing his record store in the devastating fire that destroyed Chiado in 1988. When the area was re- built rents skyrocketed. Young stars such as the Sara Tavares, of Cape Verdean heritage, and the strong-voiced Cristina Branco and Ana Moura have breathed new life into the genre.

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Lisbon Marco Polo Guide

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Dublin in a nutshell: craic, gaelic and the shamrock

The best part of traveling must be learning about different cultures. Let Marco Polo teach you a little about the important aspects of the Irish culture:  craic, gaelic, the harp and the shamrock. It really doesn’t get more Irish than this!

Ireland

Craic

In Ireland the pub is the focus of life. It is much more than a just a place where you go to drink beer, rather it is a place that nurtures two very important elements of Irish culture: music and conversation. The importance of traditional music to the Irish (which still sounds the best when played in a pub) is well documented but even more important than the music is the conversation, as the Irish are garrulous and humorous folk. Their eloquence has not only earned them the Nobel Prize for Literature but it is also something that comes in handy every evening at the bar counter.

And where there is Irish talk there is Irish laughter and so you will often hear the word craic, which is roughly translated as ‘fun’. ‘What’s the craic?’ can mean, ‘What’s going on?’ or ‘What’s up?’ and as a question it can also be a challenge to tell an entertaining and humorous story. After a successful evening at the pub you say, ‘It was great craic!’– ‘We had a lot of fun!’

Gaelic

Tourists in Dublin often wonder how many buses drive to An Lár as there is no mention of the place in conversation and it is not even recorded on the city map. An Lár is the Gaelic (Gaelic is the generic name for both Irish and Scottish but is the word used in Ireland for Irish) word for the city centre. In Ireland Irish is, according to the 1937 Constitution, the country’s first language – English is only the second official language – however, the reality stands in stark contrast to this constitutional wish.

Irish is a Celtic language that was allowed to flourish freely up until the 16th century when Henry VIII and his followers tried to suppress their rebellious Irish subjects by forcing English laws and language on to them. After the great famine in the mid 1900s it was forbidden to speak Irish at school. The children who did were forced to carry a wooden stick around their necks and for every Irish word they spoken, a mark was notched into the stick. Once a certain number of marks had been reached, the parents were forced to pay a fine.

Only once the independence movement, towards the end of the 19th century, was underway was there a revival of the language and after independence in 1922 the new government began actively promoting the language. Gaelic was taught in schools and Gaeltachts – communities with Irish as a home language – were founded. Tax reductions and housing subsidies were used as incentives to encourage people to settle in these areas. Even in Dublin housing complexes were created specifically for Irish-speaking residents.

Despite these efforts Irish Gaelic is a dying language. But there are still toilet signs that may create a little problem for harried tourists so do not make the assumption that fir means ‘woman’ and mná means ‘man’ or you may end up walking through the wrong door!

Dublin Marco Polo Pocket Guide

Photo credit: Carina Watson

The Harp and Shamrock

Two national symbols are ubiquitous in Dublin. The first is the twelve-stringed harp, which is a symbol for the bards and therefore music and literature. When the flag – with a yellow harp on a blue background – is raised in Phoenix Park it indicates that the head of state is at home, the state residence is right in the middle of the park. The harp is also seen as part of the stone coat of arms on the façades of some of the more prestigious buildings but it is most often seen as the Guinness logo. However, but the Guinness harp is inverted because in Ireland it would be presumptuous to depict a state harp on a glass of beer.

Another Irish symbol is the clover leaf, for botanists trifolium dubium, for the general population shamrock. On their National Day, St Patrick’s Day (17th March), the nurseries do a booming trade as every patriotic Dubliner wears a green shamrock sprig in their buttonhole. Legend has it that St Patrick used the three-leafed clover during his missionary work in the 5th century to explain the teaching of the Holy Trinity. The shamrock symbol appears when Ireland hosts a special event, on the shirts of the Irish football and rugby teams or part of the logo for the tourism board.

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Dublin Marco Polo Guide

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Street Art Lisbon

Lisbon is a popular tourist destination for many reasons; it is steeped in the irresistible charm of times past with magnificent palaces and monasteries, picturesque alleyways and staircases, pretty corners and sleepy squares. That’s not all though: Lisbon has another side that is dynamic, modern and cosmopolitan. Young hipsters party in the smart riverbank clubs and restaurants or get their kicks from bar-hopping in the party neighbourhood of Bairro Alto and in the lively port quarter of Cais de Sodré.

Lisbon today represents a melting pot of cultures. Lisboa (pronounced “lishbóa”) in Portuguese – is both metropolitan and provincial, multicultural and open to the world, welcoming and relaxed. “Live and let live” is the motto here.

For that reason, among others, the street art scene is bursting with talent. Love it or hate it, street art is art… and it’s here to stay! Here are the street art highlights of Portugal’s capital:

Street art, Anjos, Lisbon

Street art, Anjos, Lisbon

Street art, Anjos, Lisbon

Street art, Anjos, Lisbon

Street art, Anjos, Lisbon

Street art, Anjos, Lisbon

Street art, Anjos, Lisbon

Street art, Anjos, Lisbon

Street art, Lisbon

Street art, Lisbon

Street art, Socorro, Lisbon

Street art, Socorro, Lisbon

Street art, Socorro, Lisbon

Street art, Socorro, Lisbon

Street art, São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon

Street art, São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon

Street art, São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon

Street art, São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon

Street art, São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon

Street art, São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon

Street art, São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon

Street art, São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon

Street art, São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon

Street art, São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon

Street art, São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon

Street art, São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, São José, Lisbon

Street art, Pena, Lisbon

Street art, Pena, Lisbon

Street art, Anjos, Lisbon

Street art, Anjos, Lisbon

Buy the Lisbon Marco Polo Guide

Lisbon Marco Polo Guide

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